EXPLAINER: Will juror’s march presence impact Chauvin case?

U.S. Headlines

Brandon Mitchell, a juror in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, poses for a picture, Wednesday April 28, 2021, in Minneapolis. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The revelation that a juror who helped convict a former Minneapolis police officer in the killing of George Floyd had participated in a march in Washington, D.C., months before the trial is unlikely to affect that guilty verdict, experts say.

But that’s not always the case. Though rare, there have been cases in which convictions have been tossed out or reexamined after new information about a juror is discovered. Here’s a look at the issue and what comes next:

WHAT HAPPENED?

After juror Brandon Mitchell spoke to the media about his experience in the Derek Chauvin trial, a photo of him at the march last August commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I have a Dream” speech began circulating online.

The photo shows Mitchell at the rallywearing a T-shirt bearing an image of King and the words “GET YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECKS” and “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter.

Mitchell didn’t talk about the march during jury selection for Chauvin’s trial. But he told the Star Tribune that he answered “no” to questions on a jury questionnaire about whether he or anyone close to him participated in marches speaking out against Floyd’s death and police brutality.

He said the Washington rally was “100% not” a march for Floyd. He said: “It was literally called the anniversary of the March on Washington.”

Members of Floyd’s family spoke at the event along with relatives of others who were shot by police.

COULD THIS IMPACT THE VERDICT?

Experts say that’s unlikely. Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defense attorney not involved in the case, said the revelation alone wasn’t enough to overturn Chauvin’s conviction, but it could be combined with other issues in an appeal to say Chauvin was denied a fair trial.

Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based attorney and jury consultant, said: “I don’t think the judge wants to do anything with this verdict.”

IS THERE LEGAL PRECEDENT?

A 1984 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court set precedent on the issue of juror disclosures.

McDonough Power Equipment v. Greenwood was a case over injuries a boy received from the blades of a riding lawnmower. The boy’s parents lost and sought a new trial after learning a juror, whose son broke a leg when a tire exploded, failed to answer yes to a question designed to elicit information about injuries that resulted in disability or prolonged suffering to an immediate family member.

The Supreme Court found the parents were not entitled to a new trial unless the juror’s failure to disclose denied them the right to an impartial jury, saying: “To invalidate the result of a 3-week trial because of a juror’s mistaken, though honest, response to a question, is to insist on something closer to perfection than our judicial system can be expected to give.”

The justices said that to get a new trial, a party must show a juror did not answer a question honestly, and that a correct response would have provided a valid basis to have the juror removed.

HAS THIS ISSUE AFFECTED OTHER CASES?

In 2015, a Tennessee judge granted a mistrial in the case of two former Vanderbilt football players who were convicted in the 2013 dorm room rape of a student. The judge found that one of the jurors, the foreman, intentionally withheld information during jury questioning about being a victim of sexual assault.

During a hearing, the juror testified that he didn’t withhold information because he didn’t consider himself a victim of rape – he was 16 at the time and said the relationship was consensual. His parents pressed charges against the perpetrator.

But the judge found that “actual bias has been clearly shown” and granted a mistrial. The two former football players were convicted again in subsequent trials.

In California, a lower court is currently considering whether to order a new trial in the high-profile case of Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 of killing his wife, Laci, who was eight months pregnant. The California Supreme Court ordered last fall that Peterson’s convictions should get a second look after finding a juror committed “prejudicial misconduct” by failing to disclose information.

Laci Peterson, 27, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002 and her body later washed ashore in the San Francisco Bay.

According to court documents, the juror had answered no to questions about whether she had ever been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit. In fact, she had filed a lawsuit in 2000 to obtain a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, saying the woman had harassed her while she was pregnant and that she feared for the life of her unborn child.

WHAT’S NEXT IN CHAUVIN’S CASE?

Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Judge Peter Cahill for a hearing to impeach the verdict — which means to question its validity — on grounds that the jury committed misconduct and/or felt race-based pressure, among other issues. Nelson’s request did not include details, and made no mention of recent information about Mitchell.

Nelson is expected to file more detailed briefs outlining his arguments.

Tuerkheimer said it’s within Cahill’s power to hold a hearing, and each side may present witnesses. Mitchell could be subpoenaed to answer questions. Then Cahill would have to decide whether Mitchell’s participation in the march mattered.

“Nobody knows if it would’ve made a difference. Nobody knows who the juror would be if this juror was struck, had he disclosed he was at this MLK Jr. march,” Tuerkheimer said. He also said Mitchell might have stayed on the jury anyway, even if his presence at the march had been known.

If Cahill rules against Nelson, it’s another issue he could raise on appeal.

“It goes to the heart of a fair and impartial juror. And if there is a juror that was biased and not entirely forthcoming, that is an issue that is going to have to be looked at,” Tuerkheimer said.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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